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A new nematode-eating plant discovered in Brazil

 Pretty nasty: Philcoxia minensis has flowers above the ground, but beneath the soil lurk sticky leaves that can trap and eat roundworms  Going underground: This image shows a close up of one of the the sticky leaves where a grain of sand (left arrow) is stuck alongside a roundworn (right arrow)

A carnivorous plant that can eat tiny roundworms known as nematodes thanks to its unusual underground leaves has been discovered in Brazil.

The Philcoxia minensis plant has flowering leaves above the ground too (see photo), but it’s what’s beneath the soil that has fascinated scientists. The subterranean leaves, each about the size of a pinhead, are able to absorb some light through the white soil of the Cerrado, a tropical savannah region in Brazil.

But the same leaves are also able to secrete a sticky gum that traps roundworms and slowly digest them [see photo above at right, where arrows point to a grain of sand (left) that is stuck alongside a nematode (right)].

‘It’s a great example of how plants, which can’t move to find food and water, are able to develop interesting mechanisms to deal [with] extreme environments,’ Rafael Oliveira, a professor of Botany at  University of Campinas (Unicamp), explains. 

Carnivorous plants are not particularly rare, but they are usually found living in extreme conditions. Various types of meat-eating plants have been known to make up their protein intake by wolfing down insects and even rats, as in the case of the Nepenthes robcantleyt.

Prof. Oliveira was fascinated by the Philcoxia plant because its underground leaves were seemingly lacking in function, unable to absorb much light because they lacked direct exposure to the sun. But the team supposed that if the leaves didn’t perform a regular function, they must have a more unusual one.

What Prof. Oliveira’s team needed to prove was that the Philcoxia was actually eating the nematodes, rather than just trapping them to fertilize the surrounding soil as they decomposed. The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explains how the scientists fed the plant with lab-raised roundworms that had been marked with an unusually and easily-recognised isotope of nitrogen. Then, when the plant was ‘hungry’ again, the team tested the leaves and discovered evidence of the same unusual isotope, which told them the worms had been digested with enzymes and absorbed.

Gavin Allen (Science & Tech – Mail Online / 14 Jan. 2012)

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2 Respostas
  1. Dana T Murdock disse:

    Nice post. Thanks for publishing.

  2. Ice Golly Andrews disse:

    Some kind of stuff yu only see in Australia and Brazil. Bizarre! Txs bro.

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